Today at church we had a Mothering Sunday/Mothers day service. I was thrilled to be able to speak and share some of my thoughts. So here is the written version - hope you enjoy.
Mothering Sunday was originally a time when people returned to the church, in which they were baptised or where they attended services when they were children. In time, it became customary for young people who were working as servants in large houses, to be given a holiday on Mothering Sunday. They could also use this day to visit their own mothers.
Mothers Day, which is what we now call this day was first officially celebrated in the USA in 1914. Ana Jarvis had promoted the idea to celebrate what we all love about our mothers, after the death of her own beloved mother.
She soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day and wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.”
Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”
As much as I love being given cards and gifts, the pressure felt by women on this day who are both childless or unmarried I think is very hard.I can agree with her sentiment and feel the original reason for this day is much more appropriate. For me there is a sense of relocation in the original reason for this event. A returning to your roots and your family.
This is especially true in a church context when juggling the service to not make these ladies feel 'left out', in anyway. So for us it's Mothering Sunday, a chance to celebrate all the females in our church. A chance for all of us to relocate ourselves especially as we journey through the season of Lent.
It's also a day that those who are fasting can have a well deserved day off.
The gift we gave out this year was put together by Sue, a lovely lady in our church, who just loves to bless others. I was absolutely thrilled when she showed me. The colours she chose to use on it were green, white and purple, those of the Suffragettes flag from the 'Women's Social and Political Union', led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Sue knows about my passion for female equality and had decided because of its closeness to, 'International Women's day', (celebrated annually on March 8th) to use these colours.
This date became especially meaningful to me 4 years ago when my first grandchild a granddaughter was born. As a mother of 4 daughters I have always been interested in the feminist movement but for some reason this actual day had not been on my radar.
It has been observed since the early 1900's, which was a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world. In 1908 Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change and in 1910 Clara Zetkin from Germany tabled the idea of an International Women's Day.
She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands.
In 1911 the first of these days saw more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
I then looked at the history of the suffragettes and was fascinated to find that there had been a very active group here in West Yorkshire.
The Suffragettes has a whole had become more militant in their activities in 1912, following the rejection of a bill that would have given women limited rights to the vote, originally supported by then Prime Minister Asquith.
The Bradford suffragettes in 1913 had dug up the 2nd and 12th green at Bradford Moor Golf Club, replacing the flags with the purple, green and white flag. And then in June 1913 reservoirs at Chellow Dene, near Bradford, turned a rich shade of purple after being discoloured by local wool dyes.
These symbolic actions were a part of a whole campaign to keep up the pressure on the government to give women the vote, and also for greater equality.
This years slogan for IWD is, 'pledge for parity'.
Worldwide, women continue to contribute to social, economic, cultural and political achievement. And we do have much to celebrate today. But progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places.
"The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133."
Clare Boothe Luce (March 10, 1903 – October 9, 1987) was an American author, politician, and a US Ambassador, she said; “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.”
Now with my age the thought that the predicted date for equality is well beyond my life span and possibly even that of my granddaughter there really is still 'much to be done'. That the above quote is sadly still true in some circles also cause for the continued work of raising the awareness and need for greater equality for women. I for one am extremely grateful for all the women who have gone before and paid the price for the equalities we have so far achieved.
We sang a song in our service that is in no way a church hymn, although its narrative I feel is truly Christian, it is called Bread and Roses.
A few weeks after the first IWD on March the 25th in New York the tragic 'Triangle Fire' took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States and in 1911 saw the women's 'Bread and Roses' campaign begin.
This was for 'Fair wages and dignified conditions'.
These thoughts were put into words and then to song.
"As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!"
Today we have female astronauts and prime ministers, girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. There are more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, impressive role models in every aspect of life.
And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
We have wonderful role models like - Malala Yousafzai a young woman born on July 1997. Whilst on her way home from school, men who objected to the education of females shot her in the head and almost killed her. She had known this was a possibility because of the resistance she was up against but still continued to stand up for her beliefs.
Malala survived this horrendous attack and now works towards education for all girls in her country while also serving as a symbol of perseverance and determination for women across the globe, making her an extremely courageous young woman.
Sometimes the work that requires doing can seem overwhelming and we can wonder what if we are playing our part. I am a true believer that we can make a difference and that together we can see change.
The campaign for Bread and Roses has become a powerful thought in my life.
We all need and this includes both women and men, fair conditions and dignity.
I am so grateful that my faith as a Christian with the example that Jesus left, is that these things were essential to his ministry too.
Samaritan women at the well.- John 4Jesus treated everyone that he met with great compassion, fairness and gave them their dignity. These three stories highlight this perfectly.
The Woman caught in adultery - John 8
And the Woman who had problems with bleeding. Luke 8
Rob Bell, Christian author and speaker wrote in his brilliant book Sex God a story about 'lipstick' being delivered to Bergen Belsen, concentration camp shortly after it had been liberated. Here's is an excerpt.
I also help regularly in a food bank, it's a place where those who attend have to let go of their dignity to come and receive the food both them and their family need.
In my mind the link between dignity and fair wages is shown in these two situations.
Did they need food at Bergen Belsen? Absolutely they were starving. But for these women a piece of lipstick restored their dignity, their personhood.
We cannot change the lack of dignity felt by those attending the food bank (please note all are treated with dignity by volunteers) but we can work to see change in our political systems that at this moment are driving up the use of food banks for thousands in our country. It is shaming when you consider the wealth of this nation.
I asked us to think about ways that may be an action of 'sheer unadulterated brilliance', in the same way the lipstick turned out to be. Can we find ways to give the equivalent of the 'red lipstick' to those we meet.
As I said to our small group a thought that has become my mantra,
'We can make a difference on our own but together we can do so much more'.
The Suffragettes found that and saw votes for women become reality.
We have the words that Jesus spoke in the temple in Luke's gospel
" The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”
Good news, liberty, sight to blind eyes, freedom from oppression and salvation to all.
May we be those who with our brothers and sisters work together to meet the needs of those we come alongside and bring dignity to those who have been treated unfairly.